AZ: Customers, Legislature, Cox put city on the ropes

Posted on February 26, 2007 - 7:48am.

Note: Arizona passed a form of statewide video franchise last year. Now Tucson is in a struggle with COX, the local cable provider which is playing hard ball in negotiations and is now attempting to push through more legislation, HB 2069, that would force cities to accept the state franchise from cable companies. We can expect to see these battles arise around the country as more statewide franchises are forced upon cities.

from: Arizona Daily Star

Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr.: Customers, Legislature, Cox put city on the ropes

Ernesto Portillo Jr.
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.25.2007

There's an old saying often said of wretched ink-stained scribes in print media: Don't argue with someone who buys the black liquid by the barrel.

I suspect there is a similar saying about the swankier and higher-priced cable television world: Don't even think of arguing with someone who controls the new media.

Witnessing the legislative fight between City Hall and Cox Communications from my ringside seat, it looks like Cox has Tucson in a Hulk Hogan headlock.

It's smackdown wrestling between Cox and the city. Except this is for real. Cox and its tag-team partner in the Legislature are slamming the city with an array of swift moves.

There are television spots on Cox Cable telling customers the company has given the city the best darn ganga offer Tucson will get. There's a Cox Web site that gives its customers the Cox version and makes it easy for customers to send irate e-mails to state legislators demanding they support Cox.

"It makes for a good sound bite," said Carol West, Tucson's East Side city councilwoman, of Cox's public appeal for help.
If public support isn't enough, Cox has its friends in the Legislature, dominated by Maricopa County Republicans, whose main sport is to stick it to Tucson.

Cox is pushing a bill through the Legislature that would force the city to accept a state cable-franchise law passed last year. The law allows Cox to cut the number of public-access channels from nine to four and reduces Cox's franchise fee to Tucson from nearly 8.5 percent to 5 percent.
Tucson escaped the law so it could negotiate a new franchise agreement with Cox. But the two didn't make nice, so Cox asked the Legislature to twist Tucson's arms and legs into the shape of a gnarled mesquite.

Cox is telling its customers they will get a reduction in the cable fees, and more high-definition channels, if only Tucson would get out of the way.

The company says its Tucson customers pay the highest fees in the state and its subscribers want fewer public channels and more commercial channels.

While Cox has coaxed its customers into the ring to take down Tucson, Cox said it is simply a loudspeaker for its customers.

"We really want the voice of our customers to be heard," said Anne Doris, Cox's vice president for Southern Arizona.
Cox contends the the city isn't listening to its customers, so Cox got tough with Tucson.

Look, I'm not the city's mouthpiece. I'm not feeling sorry for the city that Cox is about ready to toss Tucson over the ropes. The city's no slouch in muscling its way when it wants.

And I gotta admire Cox's ability to get its customers to engage in civic political participation with the lure of paying a little less and watching a few more television channels.

But I just have a little hard time believing Cox. Its customers may get a slight reduction in what they pay in the franchise tax, but there's nothing to stop Cox from raising its premium-channel fees in the future.

The city's partner is a scrawny Southern Arizona legislative delegation, most of whom oppose the Cox bill. But Baja Arizona's legislators may not have the muscle to help the city.

Tucson may get pinned on the mat. If so, Cox could broadcast its victory in high definition.

It would give new meaning to a legislative thumping.

( categories: ARIZONA | State Franchises )